Polaroids from the Middle Kingdom Press

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Xian, Shanghai, Pingyao, Shenzhen and Guangzhou soon followed, and all became food for the strange chemical combinations that occur as the out-of-date film develops, and colour and light turn rogue.

In a series of Polaroid photos featured in his upcoming book, Polaroids from the Middle Kingdom: Old and New Visions of China, published by Glitterati Incorporated and due out next month, the Beijing transplant traveled through Chinese cities with some old expired Polaroid film, to take snapshots of modern change through an old medium.

There is something of an old attic treasure to the collection, however, as the nostalgic feel comes from the expired Polaroid film Birk used to capture each shot, working from a trove he discovered at his father’s house. For the Austrian-born artist, this blending of old and new serves as a metaphor for modern China, a country in constant flux, so caught up in a headlong rush of development that each day brings the country a new face, with the scenes of the day before gone as quickly as they came.

¿No tienes plan para este fin de semana largo? Todavía estás a tiempo de coger la carretera y no soltarla. Hay tantos destinos posibles ques nos hemos decantado por hacer un plan por ciudad o paisahe.

Birk saw the future advancing on the present, and chose to photograph the changes as if by capturing each scene he was giving the viewer an insight into the past. This is not a documentary series, more a sharing of emotions, of feelings and thoughts for the past, not of the past.

Lukas Birk is the author of Polaroids from the Middle Kingdom: Old and New World Visions of China, a book released in January 2014 that compiles images he took from diverse parts of contemporary China, using his father’s expired Polaroid films. The images all pre-date the pop-culture trend for Instagram and reflect a sense of nostalgia in a rapidly changing country that is undergoing mind-numbing social and economic transformation.

China’s fast pace of change both entranced and troubled Austrian artist Lukas Birk over the years he lived in Beijing. The constant destruction and construction meant it was impossible to know what would survive. Knowing the environment around him could soon be gone filled him with what he describes as a sense of “pre-nostalgia.” But it wasn’t until he stumbled across a box of his father’s expired Polaroid film that he realised he had found the perfect medium to convey his complex feelings about modern China. In his new book Polaroids from the Middle Kingdom: Old and New World Visions of China, Lukas uses the expired film to create images of the present that feel like they have emerged from a distant past.

On a trip back to his home in Austria, Lukas came across 40 Polaroid 699 cassettes in his basement. They had expired in 1991 - used by his step-father as a dentist in the 1980s to photograph his patients. Using an old Land Camera, Lukas brought the polaroids to Beijing and has produced this series of images that captured his recently discovered feeling for nostalgia. 

With Birk’s medium acting as a metaphor for the transformation of modern China – its rapid development and the void of nostalgia left behind – this volume presents a sense of something from the past interrupted by modern motives, a collision of old and new world visions.In her insightful foreword, art advisor Katherine Don details Birk’s contribution to contemporary art in China and comments on his pioneering innovation. Birk’s stunning collection of inventive imagery captures the vibrancy of contemporary life, inspired by the filter of his own nostalgia and longing.

Collected in a forthcoming tome, Polaroids from the Middle Kingdom: Old and New World Visions of China (out February 1, 2014), his images create a gorgeous and ethereal portrait of a nation and people in flux.